A Man Young And Old: III. The Mermaid
A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
The mermaid is an except from Yeats’ “A Man Young and Old” in which the theme is about loss of vitality. In the first part of the poem titled “First Love”, he finds himself love struck and in awe, but the feeling soon turns into pain when his love is not interested. The mood is full of despair at the end of part two of the poem. The poem then goes into part three: The Mermaid. The six line poem serves as an eerie reminder that although this young man was denied, his fate could have been that of the drowned boy–accepted by an eager mermaid and then drowned.
Comparing women, or the object of his desire to a mermaid is typical of Yeats as he is known for his pride in his country of Ireland in which the natives’ lives and livelihood are connected to the sea. In Irish folklore, mermaids are common characters; they are depicted as beautiful sirens and often the blamed for fishermen who never came back from the sea. Mermaids were believed to abduct mortal men to marry in order to become a beautiful mortal woman. If they married a merman, her beauty would degenerate and she would turn into an awful looking Finwife.